Personal Wealth Management / Financial Planning

The Index Updates Coming This March

What to make of the upcoming changes to the Global Industry Classification Standard.

MarketMinder doesn’t make individual security recommendations. Specific companies mentioned here serve only to highlight a broader theme.

Last year, index providers S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI announced some changes to the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) structure—one of the most widely used methods of categorizing stocks in terms of economic sector and industry. With those updates taking effect this March, here is a look at what is getting a new home along with some tidbits to keep in mind.

S&P and MSCI developed the 10-sector GICS system in 1999 to showcase certain economic sectors’ returns—especially then-white-hot Tech.[i] The index providers review GICS annually and consult with market participants on potential changes to keep pace with the market’s fluidity, emergent economic sectors and industries, and individual companies’ evolution. The GICS system aims to give a clearer view of the economy, though it isn’t always a perfect delineation since companies may fall into some gray areas or overlap sectors. For example, GICS classifies a couple of big US Internet retailers under Consumer Discretionary—though we can see a case for them as Information Technology firms. There are also Tech firms that make the vast majority of revenue on consumer products and services. Oh, and there is the little matter of the Energy sector containing no pure renewable energy companies.

But perfection is a pipedream in any endeavor, and we aren’t throwing stones. Rather, we think GICS is important to understand since many investors use the system for benchmarking purposes, and its occasional shifts are largely attempts to account for its quirks. That includes the addition of an 11th sector—Real Estate—in 2016, before which it was an industry within Financials. Similarly, the Telecommunication Services sector got a makeover in 2018, morphing into “Communication Services” with the addition of several companies from Information Technology (Internet services) and Consumer Discretionary (media companies). The index providers relegated the old, defensive Telecom to an industry within the new sector, illustrating why changes are worth monitoring—if you are looking for a certain category of stocks, it helps to know where to look.

With the update coming this March, the new GICS structure will consist of 11 sectors, 25 industry groups, 74 industries and 163 sub-industries. While there is no new sector this time, several industries are changing. Due to the evolving retail landscape, S&P and MSCI are getting rid of the Consumer Discretionary sector’s “Internet & Direct Marketing” sub-industry and grouping those businesses elsewhere based on the nature of goods sold. For example, Amazon and Ebay will move to the “Broadline Retail” sub-industry of Consumer Discretionary while food delivery service Doordash will be in the “Restaurants” sub-industry. Digital pharmacy is moving to Consumer Staples’ “Drug Retail” sub-industry. Beyond the consumer sectors, several Data Processing & Outsourced Services companies are moving sectors—for example, Transaction & Payment processing companies are shuffling from Information Technology to Financials. Real Estate will have a bunch of new industries to help investors track specialization, including eight new Industries (e.g., Industrial REITs, Office REITs, Residential REITs, Hotel & Resort REITs, etc.).

GICS updates aren’t market drivers, as they don’t affect the economic or political conditions that influence investor demand, in our view. Even after its move to the more offensive Communication Services sector, the Telecom industry still behaves defensively. Reshuffles are also widely publicized when made—and take effect after a comment period—so they lack much surprise power. But GICS changes are worth being aware of from a portfolio construction standpoint. Take the decision to discontinue the “Internet & Direct Marketing Retail” sub-industry. Before, the classification made sense—some merchants were exclusively on the Internet while some big retailers (e.g., Department Stores) didn’t have as large an online presence. But as consumers’ preferences evolved, many retailers started blending brick-and-mortar and online channels—including outlets that started online. Thus, the change to “Broadline Retail” and discontinuation of “Department Stores” and “Internet & Direct Marketing Retail”—an update that isn’t shocking to anyone who has visited a mall recently. Yet if you wanted to get portfolio exposure to a certain type of retailer, it is worth being aware of these changes so you know where to look.

Or take payment processors, which have become more ubiquitous at big and small shops alike. After starting in the Information Technology sector, they are now rotating over to Financials. The move makes sense given their core business is in payments and transactions. But it is also a reminder many companies have characteristics spanning multiple industries or sectors. For investors, do your homework and consider whether the company is an outlier within its category. If you don’t do your due diligence, you may not be positioned in accordance with the conditions and trends you expect.

H/T: Fisher Investments Research Analyst Jake Riddell

[i] Before that, the S&P 500 had only four sectors: Industrials, Utilities, Transports and Financials.

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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.

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